Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

"I Wish for Nothing More Ardently upon Earth, Than to See My Friends and Country Again": The Return of Massachusetts Loyalists

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

"I Wish for Nothing More Ardently upon Earth, Than to See My Friends and Country Again": The Return of Massachusetts Loyalists

Article excerpt

"I wish nothing more ardently upon earth, than to see my friends and country again in the enjoyment of peace, freedom and happiness,"1 wrote the Congregational minister and former Harvard librarian Reverend Isaac Smith from his exile in Enfield near London to his father in Boston. Many Loyalist refugees shared this dearest wish to return to their home country.2 The Massachusetts Loyalists who returned after the War of Independence, more precisely after 1784, as Isaac Smith did, were warmly received by their neighbors. This article aims to show that the hostile attitude towards Loyalists and their return in reaction to the Peace Treaty of 1783 was the last wave of a broad anti-Toryism in Massachusetts and lasted only for one year.

From 1784 on, post-revolutionary Massachusetts was tolerant towards its conservative countrymen. The returnees recovered lost property and a few were even able to collect debts. Some of these Loyalists and their children not only moved in patriot circles but also participated in the political culture of the early Republic. In Massachusetts, returnees were able to rebuild their lives because of the Bay State's peculiar conservative political culture and the fact that it was a "quasi" one-party state dominated by Federalists until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Before the Revolution those Massachusetts residents who became Tories were not distinguishable from their neighbors who embraced independence. Many Loyalists were respected members of their towns, well-educated Harvard graduates, working as merchants, doctors, lawyers, distillers or ministers. Their lives were shaped by kinship and patronage networks. The chains of influence sometimes also crossed the Atlantic. When young Isaac Smith traveled to London for the first time in 1770, he moved among the best Presbyterian circles there.3 Like Massachusetts Loyalists in general, those men and women who returned to Massachusetts from Great Britain did not fit in the image of the typical "Tory", the conservative member of the older generation, who was not ready to deal with change. Rather, the Massachusetts returnees were young (in 1776 their average age was 31) native born and emotionally attached to their country.

"There could be no loyalists until there were rebels, and there were no rebels until after 1773," Mary Beth Norton points out in British-- Americans. It was only when independence became "the chief point of contention"4 that people decided to choose the "Loyalist" or the "Patriot" side. For many this was not an easy decision. The majority of the returnees had not been engaged in politics. Some wanted to remain neutral, but they felt pushed into taking positions because of external circumstances. Boston merchant John Amory, for example, had been involved in a public action against officers of the Crown. Because he feared economic losses, however, Amory was among the merchants who protested against the "Solemn League and Covenant of 1774," suspending all commercial business with Great Britain. A business trip to England, which he coincidentally made during the Battle of Lexington, definitely made him a "Tory" in the eyes of his countrymen.5

Like Amory, Massachusetts Tories who returned chose the Loyalist side for various reasons. Abigail Adams' sister, Mary Smith Cranch, tried to convert her Loyalist cousin Isaac Smith to "patriotism," fearing his loyalty could damage his career, his father's business, and the family's reputation. He answered her: "The greatest friends of their country and of mankind, that ever lived, have frequently met with the same hard fate." Although Smith spoke of "the cruelty, the injustice, the arbitrary nature" of the parliamentary acts, he declared himself ready to calmly suffer under these "and hundred other acts.. than be subject to the capricious, unlimited despotism" of his "own countrymen."

Smith added that his position at Harvard and his profession as Congregational minister forbade him to be disobedient to his king or Parliament, because they obliged him to "liberal enquiry. …

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